Cruz Control: Breaking down why the Stephen Eustaquio rumours have been so complicated

Stephen Eustaquio’s future remains far from sorted, as transfer rumours continue to swirl around the Canadian midfielder. With all that’s been going on, we look at what may be next for him, and why a move to Vancouver could easily either work or flame out. 

In silly season, it can be hard to keep track of all that’s going on. 

With Lucas Cavallini’s big-money move to Vancouver seeming to be all but wrapped up, with the deal pushing towards the finish line, the focus for Whitecaps fans has now shifted elsewhere. 

One such name that has received plenty of attention as of late has been midfielder Stephen Eustaquio, the Canadian Men’s National Team player currently playing at Cruz Azul in Mexico. After speculation emerging last month that Eustaquio might be on the move this winter, Cruz Azul threw coal onto the fire this weekend, announcing that the midfielder was part of their outgoing transfer list heading into January. 

That list caused quite a stir in the MLS world, more specifically in Montreal and Vancouver, as it was quickly reported that Eustaquio’s future would be in MLS. While there were also links saying that a move back to Portugal could be in the works, it was assumed that the two Canadian MLS sides would be frontrunners, even despite the lure to go to Portugal. 

With Vancouver looking for midfield upgrades, Eustaquio was seen as a perfect fit, as he would bring a dynamic element to the Whitecaps midfield, something we explored in our latest edition of Thursday Thoughts. Montreal was a bit more of a stretch, as they don’t need a midfielder with fan-favourite Samuel Piette at the #6 position, but even they would benefit massively if they were to complete a potential move, bolstering their depth ahead of what’s expected to be a busy campaign for them. 

Yet despite initial optimism that Vancouver would emerge as a favourite for the midfielder, Montreal has continued to lead the way, with it being reported Tuesday by Montreal media member, Nilton Jorge, that the Impact remains in the hunt for the Canadian. 

With it later being reported that Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira was also in for the midfielder, with a move to Portugal on loan supposedly all but wrapped up, it was yet another turn in a complicated transfer deal. Given that Vancouver has been yet to emerge in any of the rumours, it seems unlikely that the midfielder will be Whitecaps-bound, at least as of now, especially with the latest links. 

But given how quickly things have twisted and turned during these past few days, it wouldn’t be that far out of this world if they came storming back in with a last-minute offer, especially with nothing yet to be guaranteed. Heading into a pivotal transfer window, it would be a big coup for the Vancouver side, giving fans more positive news after the recent Cavallini rumours. 

Why should Vancouver be in for him?

A reason why people have expected the Whitecaps to move for Eustaquio is because of their midfield, which was a big area of weakness for them last year, a big part of the reason why signing the Canadian International makes sense. With a quality finisher like Cavallini on his way in, they’ll need to improve their play through the middle of the pitch, especially if they want their prized striker to push towards a 20+ goal season like he is capable of. 

2nd last in the league in terms of shots in the penalty area (5.7 per game), last in percentage of possession in the final third (23%), 2nd last in open play goals (23) and last in key passes per game (7.5), Vancouver struggled to consistently generate offence from the middle of the park. While Cavallini can make a dent in the shots regard on his own, the Whitecaps need to spend more time in the final third to help the target man, as they need to find a way to generate more offence in open play to help him thrive. 

Signing someone like Eustaquio would be a positive step towards improving that, even if he’s not necessarily an attacking-minded #6, as his value instead comes from what he does to free up teammates. Even despite his knee injury this year, he still looked very athletic in a cameo against the US last month, which is key, as it’s part of what makes him such a menace defensively. 

As seen by his stats from his time in Portugal, he was an interception and tackling monster, racking up over 3.5 interceptions and 1.6 tackles per game. Given that Vancouver’s #6 last year, Jon Erice, averaged a solid 1.4 interceptions and 2 tackles per game, Eustaquio’s numbers in a good Portuguese league stand out, as they would certainly help the Caps solidify the middle of the park. With he and Hwang In Beom’s athleticism, they would make it a lot harder to play through the middle against Vancouver, something that killed the Whitecaps at times last season.

But despite all the praise for his defensive attributes, he’s no slouch going forward either. In this radar made by Peter Galindo of Sportsnet, it also shows the offensive attributes that he can bring on the other end of the pitch, as he is a solid passer of the ball. 

With a pass percentage of 84%, along with just over 7 progressive passes and 5 passes to the final 3rd per game, he can move the ball forward, which would help the Whitecaps immensely. While he is not Andrea Pirlo, his passing statistics are nothing to scoff at, and would most certainly not be a step down from the praised passing abilities of Jon Erice. 

And when you throw in the fact that he is approximately 10 years younger than the Spaniard, along with his willingness to defend and his good athleticism despite the injury, it seems like a no-brainer move. He would still allow the Whitecaps to play a possession-based style if desired, as he can progress the ball forward with urgency, but he can still help out his defenders and his fellow midfielders thanks to his defending chops. 

Other factors at play?

But like with most transfers, there are many outside factors that could influence a potential deal. Besides needing him to actually want to come, they will also need to find the right price, as well as make sure that his early-season knee injury his completely healed. 

Given that Vancouver plays on turf, it could also be part of the reason why Eustaquio has yet to come up in the conversation, as Montreal plays on grass at Stade Saputo. While the Impact also does sometimes play on the turf at the Stade Olympique for big games, with their home opener in 2020 being played there, along with the potential for Champions League games being moved there. 

But considering that they have fellow Canadian #6, Samuel Piette, in the fold, they can afford to sign Eustaquio and be cautious, putting Piette in for all the turf games, allowing Eustaquio to regain full confidence in his knee. 

Would the fact that the Whitecaps play on the carpet-like surface hinder Eustaquio’s want to come to Vancouver, especially considering that he is still recovering from a major knee injury? It most certainly could, because even though turf should be fine for him once fully recovered, being thrown in and playing 17+ games on the surface might not be the wisest move for him so soon after the injury. 

Another moving part would be on the economical side of things, as the Whitecaps would have to sort out if the move would be a loan, or if they would be able to convince Cruz Azul to make a permanent purchase. With the rumours linking Eustaquio to Portugal suggesting that a move there would be a six-month loan, it could just as easily that Cruz Azul is seeing if Eustaquio is fully recovered before making a bigger decision in the summer, where his value would certainly be higher than it is now. 

If Vancouver could get him on a year-long loan at a TAM level salary, they would certainly be happy, but it’s yet to be seen if Cruz Azul would be ready to go down that road. Given that his salary is supposedly around $655 000 dollars, well under the TAM threshold, he wouldn’t cost too much on a loan, which is probably why the Impact are chasing his signature, and why Vancouver should be all over him at that number.

Overall, it’s a confusing situation, especially with the questions of loans and injuries at play. He looked healthy in his cameo for Canada, but he is yet to return to the Cruz Azul 1st team, having played with their U23s for nearly 2 months now. Given all the mystery surrounding him, it makes sense why Vancouver has yet to pounce, as they are most likely waiting to see how the other negotiations shape up, buying them time before they can start to ponder making a move of their own.

Do Montreal and Portugal make the most sense for him?

Eustaquio during a late-game cameo vs the US last month (Canada Soccer)

From Eustaquio’s perspective, there is plenty of reason to consider both the Montreal and Pacos de Ferreira offers. At only 22, he’s still got a lot of football ahead of him, and both options could provide him with differing levels of exposure, which would help him depending on what direction he opts to take. 

In Montreal, he would get to play under the famed Thierry Henry, a move that will certainly allow him to have more eyeballs on him, at least from an international standpoint. While it’s unsure how Henry will manage over the course of his tenure in MLS, just having that recognition can help, as players may want to seek the opportunity to learn from one of the sport’s greats. 

Along with the Impact’s qualification to the CONCACAF Champions League, and what looks to be a busy summer schedule with league congestion and the Voyageurs Cup, there could certainly be a lot of playing time to be had for Eustaquio, even with quality midfielders Piette and Saphier Taider in the fold. Given that a healthy Eustaquio would at least push Piette for minutes, if not supplant him, and that the rumours for a Piette return to Europe suggest that a move like that may still be in the cards, he could easily become an everyday starter in la Belle Province for 2020. 

On the flipside, returning to Portugal has plenty of enticing factors at play. Given that Pacos is in a relegation battle, they need any help that they can get, and Eustaquio is a known commodity in the league. After the injury, 6 months in Portugal can give him the chance to refind his game in the comforts of a place he used to call home, allowing him to build up confidence ahead of the summer. 

It would also allow him to barge into the starting conversation for Canada, as a healthy Eustaquio playing in Portugal would most certainly push him into the #6 role for John Herdman at the National Team, as well as increase his value on the transfer market. If he moves to Portugal and shows that he’s still got it, he’ll be an even more wanted man in the summer, which would be of benefit both to him and Cruz Azul.

While he could as easily flame out in Portugal, that risk-reward is certainly enticing for him, and the lure to return to the place he called home for so long could be too much to resist. 

Looking Forward:

What remains clear is that Eustaquio’s future is far from sorted, even if a move happens in the coming days. After looking to be a longer-term starter at Cruz Azul when he moved to Mexico, the injury threw all of that out of the window, murkying the waters and leading to this transfer situation. 

The Whitecaps could certainly use a player like Eustaquio, as we saw, but given what Montreal and Pacos can offer him in terms of opportunity, it’s not going to be easy to lure him over. If Vancouver do swoop him and snatch him, it would be a big coup, but if not, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, as long as they can eventually get someone that fits their profile at the #6 position. 

And from Eustaquio’s perspective, there is a lot to consider as well. Given that a move to MLS could have several boom or bust aspects attached to it, aspects that may shape his national team career, future compensation and more, expect him to think long and hard before a potential move north. Even if he goes to Portugal this week, as is supposedly the case, there will still be a lot on the table in 6 months, which is part of the reason why this transfer remains the most intriguing Canadian Men’s National Team linked one that we may see this winter. 

But either way, considering his pedigree, expect Eustaquio to come out strong no matter where he goes. He has the pedigree, as seen, and with the injury woes behind him, expect him to thrive when he gets his confidence back. After a setback last season, he’ll want to avoid stalling on the road to what is hoped to be a prosperous career. 

Cover photo provided by Canada Soccer

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